Life is Not a Race

life is not a race

When I was a young kid, around four or five years old, I really wanted to learn to ride a bike. My parents started me of with the customary training wheels at first. I practiced and practiced. I couldn’t wait until I was let loose and able to ride on my own. That day came not too long after although, at the time, it felt like an eternity.

My youth was filled with countless other similar experiences of wanting something, but having to wait until I was older. A perfect example that most of us experienced was learning to drive. That goal was on our radar for a very long time and, as we got closer, the milestone seemed like it took forever to arrive. Time slowed to a crawl. We attempted to will it forward.

As children, we eagerly anticipated the passage of time. We looked forward to becoming older because it meant new and exciting things in our life. Time went slow, yet we yearned for it to go by fast. Christmas and birthdays couldn’t get there soon enough. About the only occasion in which we hoped time would slow to a crawl was during summer vacations from school!

All Grown Up

Once we enter the “real world” as grown ups, we start viewing time much differently. It speeds up exponentially. The years start flying by and before we know it we are turning 25, 30, 40…you know, those super “old” ages that were incomprehensible to us as children.

As adults, we want time to slow down. We are uneasy about aging and do whatever we can to retain our youth. Yet, despite the different age perspectives on how fast time passes, there’s still an element we retain from our youth:

Being impatient when it comes to accomplishing major life achievements.

Why is this? How come, as adults, we are still pre-occupied with attaining these important milestones? Is it because of our biological clocks? Are we just too narrowly focused? Do we have a “one-track mind”?

Everyone Else has Done It!

I believe there are numerous reasons why we become anxious to meet our life expectations. Sometimes we are just goal oriented and driven to succeed. Other times we are excited or engrossed in our objectives and do whatever we can to make them happen. Two other reasons that I want to highlight are:

  • We have our own internal life goals or deadlines (we wanted to get married by a certain age, have two kids by 30, get a dream job in place by 35, etc.)
  • We look around and compare to everyone else (we see that everyone else around us – family and friends – are accomplishing similar goals which, in turn, causes us to panic and feel stagnant about our life path)

I’ve encountered several examples over the years with my wife (Note: I’m not trying to speak disparagingly about her. Sometimes it’s just easier to notice and observe this urgency in others rather than self-reflect). We dated for just over four years before we married. Along the way, many of her friends and acquaintances tied the knot. She was happy for each of them of course, but that didn’t prevent her from feeling more and more antsy each time we attended another ceremony. After one wedding in particular, she had a mini-breakdown because she felt as if life was passing her by (that’s a lot of pressure on a guy, isn’t it!).

After we were married, the cycle started over again – this time it was about having kids! All those same friends and acquaintances that were getting married before were now having kids. To my wife, everyone was doing it. She internalized that perception and ended up putting unneeded pressure on herself which then, in turn, put pressure on me.

In each of these situations, my wife had always planned to be married and have kids by previously elapsed age thresholds. Compounding the situation was the constant bombardment and subsequent comparison to others who were all “ahead in life” (darn you Facebook!).

You know what my response was in these and similar situations: “Life isn’t a race!”

Life is Not a Race

So, here’s my message to you today:

“Life is not a race. There’s no prize for finishing first. In fact, finishing means you’ve died! There’s no need to rush through life.”

This is not a call to be lazy or ignore important goals. You need to work hard and do your best to steer your life where you want it to be. But, if you aren’t there yet, don’t beat yourself up over it. This can apply to all facets of your life where you might feel like you are behind the pace. As far as personal finances go (this is a personal finance site after all!), areas where this might apply include savings progress toward retirement or your children’s college fund. Or perhaps you have a huge amount of debt to payoff and feel buried. Maybe you haven’t advanced your career to where you assumed you’d be by now. Whatever it is, do your best not to get overwhelmed and put undue stress on yourself.

Most of all, don’t compare to where others are and what they’ve accomplished. It does you no good.

This lesson can be difficult to remember when you’re going through the daily hustle and bustle. Trust me, I know. I’m also not trying to preach from a pulpit – I often struggle with being impatient as well. It’s all too easy to become fixated and then obsess about how close or not you are to achieving that goal. When I find myself getting carried away, I do my best to take a step back and remind myself of this important lesson…life is not a race.

Is life often a race for you? Do you get caught up in wanting to attain milestones quickly and then forget that life is the journey that happens along the way?

Image courtesy of Michael Napoleon at Flickr.

36 Responses to Life is Not a Race

  1. MonicaOnMoney October 4, 2013 at 5:40 am #

    This is so true! I’ve had a mental checklist of things I want to accomplish and by what age and it sometimes causes me to make comparisions. I think it’s my competitive nature but it does cause some stress!

    Thanks for the reminder that life is not a race! And have a great weekend 🙂
    MonicaOnMoney recently posted…Government Shutdown: Everyone Needs An Emergency FundMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      I think being competitive can be a factor in feeling this way for sure. Also, the fear of missing out could be a big part of it too.

  2. Little House October 4, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    So true! I remember when I was a kid wanting so badly to grow up! Now that I’ve hit that “old” age, I feel quite young and I’ve grown more patient (working with children has probably helped). I’ve also stopped comparing myself to others, well, most of the time at least. I try to think about my own future on the path I’m on without getting to competitive.
    Little House recently posted…The Heat and the Home: Why Solar Panels Are a Good IdeaMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      I think it’s natural to compare to others a bit, but when they have something you want and then you start getting down on yourself because you don’t have it…that’s when it becomes very unhealthy.

  3. Kathy October 4, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    Isn’t this a little like “keeping up with the Joneses”? Maybe not in terms of material acquisition but with regard to life achievements. My husband and I were married nearly 5 years before we had a child. Everyone else was having babies but I wouldn’t trade that time for just the two of us. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself.

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Yes, that’s a good comparison. I suppose it can be described as a less or non-materialistic form of “keeping up with the Joneses.” I think with the classic case of “keeping up with the Joneses” one wants flashy, expensive things just because everyone else has them. With what I’m describing, there’s nothing wrong with having your life ambitions. It’s just there’s no need to rush to get them if you’re finding them hard to come by.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty October 4, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    My mom has always reminded me to enjoy the journey…and that is so true. And, since my kids are little, I try to make a special point to enjoy it. They’re only babies for a while!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…And……We’re Renting a HomeMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

      Those are words of wisdom from your mother, Holly!

  5. moneystepper October 4, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    We can often forget this. Life is a journey to be enjoyed. Saw a video where Tim Minchin gave a speech at a graduation ceremony saying that people who achieve everything they want in their 20s, just have a mid life crisis at 30!!

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      Ha, that’s a funny (and interesting) anecdote. Makes sense though. I’ll have to check out that video.

  6. Michelle October 4, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    This is something that W and I have been thinking about a lot lately. Life is not a race and we don’t need to compare ourselves to others in order to be happy. We can make our own lives.
    Michelle recently posted…October Goals and Life UpdateMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

      Exactly right, Michelle. There’s no need to rush just to keep pace with others. All of those accomplishments will still be as special for you once you get to them at your own pace.

  7. Practical Cents October 4, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Very true. When my husband and I first got married people used to ask us all the time when we were going to have kids? It was annoying! I have learned that I can’t live my life by other people’s standards. It’s hard sometimes but I try not to get caught up in all the pressures brought on my others.
    Practical Cents recently posted…Lessons Learned in Home RenovationsMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      It can definitely be difficult. It’s good that you are trying to not live by other people’s standards. Just be sure not to make their standards become yours though. In other words, it’s one thing for others to pressure you, but when you start pressuring yourself to keep up with them – that’s a bad scenario to put yourself in.

  8. Edward Antrobus October 4, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    My best friend and his girlfriend got married last month after been together for 11 years. During the toasts and even the ceremony itself, a lot was said about the fact that they were the last to get married even though they were pretty much the first to start dating. I think at some point, they started putting it off simply because others were commenting so much on it.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted…How Often Should You Shop For Car Insurance Rates?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      More power to them. I doubt waiting that long diminished their relationship any. By the way, the reference I made in the article to my wife breaking down was due to a somewhat similar situation. We were attending a wedding and, during the reception, the bride’s mother made an announcement that one of her good friends was finally getting married after being together for something like 20-30 years. That’s what sent my wife (then girlfriend of course) over the edge – thinking that would be us!!

  9. Emily @ evolvingPF October 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Hm, now that you mention it… I definitely compare myself to where my peers are life-stage wise, especially as we’ve been languishing in grad school forever. But I often find myself adopting a tortoise-beats-the-hare attitude. I always feel like I’M going the perfect pace and that others might be too fast! Not in regards to grad school (we’re too slow! man I want to finish before I’m 30.) but getting married and reproducing. Thankfully our friends and family are NOT pressuring us to have a baby the way they pressured us to get married.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted…September 2013 Month in Review: MoneyMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      It’s good when there is little to no external pressure because that can obviously compound any internal pressure. I like the tortoise-beats-hare comparison although part of what I was trying to say is that it’s not about “winning” either way. Just go at your own pace no matter what that might be and do your best to be content with it.

  10. SuburbanFinance October 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Life isn’t a race to me. It’s actually the opposite – I feel like I always have to slow down otherwise people will frown at me for being too ambitious and young. I am 24 and getting married next year (I’ll be 25). I know many people think that’s too young, but I don’t tend to live by other standards.
    SuburbanFinance recently posted…What’s the Real Cost of Leaving a Job?My Profile

  11. Mr. Utopia October 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    It’s good to be driven and ambitious as long as you aren’t putting unnecessary stress on yourself because you feel like you have to be to keep up with others. By the way, I don’t think getting married at 25 is too young.

  12. Untemplater October 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    I totally agree life is not a race. I had some friends who were a lot like your wife – they felt they had to be married and have kids by a certain age. I never was like that. What’s the rush, I always thought, esp for kids. That’s such a huge responsibility and an incredibly long commitment. I am happy to travel and explore my career as much as possible while I still have a lot of freedom and flexibility.
    Untemplater recently posted…How To Do Bookkeeping For Your Business In Simple StepsMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

      That’s good to hear. I respect those that are able to not succumb to such pressures because it’s not always an easy thing to do.

  13. Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans October 7, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Yes! Life is NOT a race! I wrote a post a few months ago about how comparing yourself to others does not help your own situation at ALL. So be happy for others, and don’t take it as a “sign” that whatever is happening to them should happen to you.
    Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans recently posted…Lisa Vs. the Lbs. – ChangesMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

      Completely agree, it sounds like we are on the same page, Lisa!

  14. Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies October 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    This is a very interesting post and an interesting perspective! Yes, I would say that sometimes I feel that I *should* have done (or not done) something by a certain age. A prime example is to get married (I am a woman after all, this is bound to be on mind :P). I have always thought I would be married by the age of 25. Well, I am 30 next year and I am still not married. Even my younger sister was married and is now newly divorced. Sometimes it’s hard to think about it without getting depressed. But then I always remember that is was *my choice* not to be a certain way. Same is applicable to my savings (that are pretty much non-existent at this stage). Again, I *should* have saved enough by now to travel the world, etc, but I chose not to as I’ve always thought I’d get to it one day (which is kind of what happened). These days I believe that I *should* be able to design my life exactly the way I want it to be ignoring all stereotypes. It can be hard at times as it seems our minds are programmed this way but I’m doing my best not get carried away as I agree, life is not a race!
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    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      We’ll always have to deal with unknowns that get thrown our away. That’s just a part of life – reacting to and handling stuff that’s out of our control. No matter what your past or present is like, though, remember that you’re there through the summation of your life decisions. There’s no reason to fret over not being where you “thought” you wanted to be.

  15. Don @ BreathofOptimism October 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    When I was a teenager, I wanted to be married at 27, kids at 30, etc. As I got older, I realized that you can’t put a deadline on a lot of things in life. You just have to let them happen when they are supposed to happen. This isn’t to say you just sit back and wait for things to happen, but go out and live life with a positive attitude and let what happens, happen.
    Don @ BreathofOptimism recently posted…Positive Life Quotes – October 6, 2013My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

      Spot on, Don. That is exactly the message I was conveying.

  16. Tie the Money Knot October 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Really good post. Life is really a journey, not a race. Sometimes we do need to sprint, but we can’t always be going full speed. I think it’s important to balance being happy for what we do have and what we hope to have.

    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      I agree that it can be appropriate to bear down and go full speed to accomplish an objective or goal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being ambitious. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and don’t rush through it just because you’re trying to live up to other’s perceived accomplishments.

  17. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply October 8, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Great post and I agree with Tie the Money Knot…Life is a journey and not a race. While it is great to have goals, you need to enjoy the journey and each stage of your life. My wife and I are in the “we need to buy a place” phase now that we had a baby. So true about how kids want time to go faster and adults…the opposite!

    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      We are in the same exact “need to buy a place” phase, Andrew. It’s tough too especially as your family is expanding. You want a place to call “home.” This is actually a perfect example of where “life is not a race” and it’s one I admit to currently struggling with.

  18. Marissa@Financetriggers October 9, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    This is so true. In addition it’s just so much easier for everyone to tune in with other people’s lives given the availability of information through social networking sites. I’ve always love Desiderata and one of my favorite lines,”If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”
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    • Mr. Utopia October 9, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

      Awesome quote, thanks for sharing! And, yes, social networking sites can be very “evil” in that manner. In fact, I think that’s what perpetuates a great deal of trying to race through life. Sites like Facebook for personal achievements and LinkedIn for professional ones…they make it all to easy to compare to others and then you can easily conclude you’re sub par or very behind.

  19. thepotatohead October 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Often when you try to keep up with others you can just drag yourself down and get down on your own life because it isn’t “perfect” like everyone else’s. Well like the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe those who you are trying to rush to emualte are actually jealous of you for taking a slower approach to things. Like you said, life isn’t a race, we all should go at our own place.
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  20. Marissa@Thirtysixmonths February 18, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    It’s nice to hear that there were still people believe that life is not a race. Today, many were trying hard just to be on top and will do everything even stepping others right. I really love your article. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

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